Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar

Bombay Time is a novel about a group of old friends who live in the same apartment in Bombay. It's sort of a coming of age novel, not just for the characters, but for their city. The city is growing and changing, it's more violent more impoverished than when the residents of Wadia Baug were young.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks. Each chapter is presented from the point of view of a different character. In the present, the group is gathering for the wedding of one neighbor's son. In the flashbacks, characters are taken back to a pivotal moment in their life, generally when they were in their teens or twenties. For some characters we are taken through a many years and others just a few traumatic months. The juxtaposition of these wide-eyed, ambitious youths with their faded, wrinkled present day ghosts is paralleled in the changes in the city from a bustling, hopeful place to a violent, dirty, dangerous city. The shine is certainly off of both.


The character development and relationships of this group is certainly Umrigar's strength. She investigates the tense and difficult moments that change the trajectory of each life. The style is good, each character has their own voice, their own perceptions which are confirmed or shown to be false in other chapters. I found the only disappointment was in the ending, which was narrated by the same character as the first chapter. He is the only person who finds closure or redemption. I was left feeling a bit unfinished, I wanted that final resolution for each Wadia Baug resident. But possibly the author's point is that the second look isn't necessary. The old men and women are set in their ways. The emotion of the wedding and the brief brush with violence they see there leaves them unchanged. We know the characters well enough to know what they'll be doing in the morning.


Umrigar does an excellent job bringing Bombay to life for an outsider. Made me want to see more into India.

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